After any speech that I give, or in last week’s meeting with my global mastermind, or nestled within the feedback that I receive from clients, are descriptors along the lines of ‘positive’ and ‘great energy’ and ‘inspiring’.

These things are true.

But they are not the whole story.

If you know me well, you know that I acknowledge difficulty and challenge – in full – before turning to what might be created from it.

And after reading an article this morning on “toxic positivity” in friendships, I was thinking of its equal detriment in leadership.

When extreme positivity creeps into leadership messaging, it can leave team members disillusioned and disaffected rather than understood and inspired.  In what might seem counter intuitive, acknowledging the negative provides relief.  We feel seen, heard:  ‘You get it, you get me.  Yes, this has been an ass-kicker.’  Relentless positivity, on the other hand, creates its unintended opposite: we feel unaffirmed and disconnected.

Below are 3 suggestions for messaging, individually, but particularly collectively, as you steer your organizations and your people into the new year.

  1. Acknowledge.  It has been a challenging and difficult and unprecedented and stressful year.  Yes.  Employees have had to school and work in the same room.  I’ve been saying all year, in every speech I’ve given, that this is not the intersection of work and home, it’s a full-on collision.  Teams have been stretched and stressed.  Most everything has been uncertain.   And we’re still running this ultra marathon.  Many of us have either been too close or too far away from those we love most, and we’ve been worried about them falling ill or becoming ill ourselves.  Whatever seems most accurate and fitting for your team and organization, acknowledge it.
  2. Describe the Good Stuff.   Despite all those circumstances, look at what we’ve done, look at what they’ve done.  Tell your team and people about the remarkable things you’ve seen from them this year.  Be specific.  The way they’ve adjusted and still met crucial deadlines and moved the company forward; the way customers and clients received outstanding service; the way they’ve found ways to connect and relate virtually; the way they’ve greeted new colleagues and brought them in to the fold in a WFH context; the way they still brought their A-game despite the wear and tear and exhaustion; the way sales goals were met or exceeded despite the upending of the sales process; the way they’ve stretched and jumped in and taken on new roles and responsibilities with gusto; the way they organized around more charitable giving despite their own hardships.  Tell them.
  3. Show Them a Brighter Future. Remind them that the end to the pandemic is coming, that while we’re still running, there’s an end in sight.  Illuminate the future, the horizon.  Describe a picture that is bright and worthwhile and meaningful, despite all the challenges in getting there.  Remind them that all that’s been learned is not for naught, that those pivots have made you stronger as an organization and affirmed your commitment to making a difference through its mission and vision.  Tell them that you need their continued courage and effort, that it takes everyone.  And that you, as their leader, are personally proud and grateful to have them as team members and colleagues on this journey.

You will not overwhelm your people by acknowledging to them what they already know – that this has been a year like no other.

But you can distinguish yourself as a leader by calling them to something more.

Churchill.  FDR.  Lincoln.

These leaders did not ignore or downplay the tragic circumstances in which they found themselves.

Instead, they drew a picture of a different future.

And asked that people draw from a deeper well within themselves to forge it.

For more on working with me directly to take your team and organization to new heights in the new year, the Magnificent Leadership® Ascension program is a highly customized, wholistic offering for senior executives making a difference in the world. Fees begin at 150K for 12 months.  I’m only taking 3 new clients into this program for 2021 due to my commitments with the Magnificent Leadership® Executive Forum.  To schedule a conversation, write to me: